[bitcoin-dev] Using a storage engine without UTXO-index

Eric Voskuil eric at voskuil.org
Sat Apr 8 22:37:50 UTC 2017

Hash: SHA256

On 04/06/2017 05:17 PM, Tomas wrote:
> Thanks, but I get the impression that the similarity is rather 
> superficial.

My point was that "Using a storage engine without UTXO-index" has been
done, and may be a useful reference, not that implementation details
are the same.

> To address your points:

Below you addressed two points I made regarding the downside of the
original libbitcoin implementation. These were initial learnings that
informed future implementations (also without a UTXO index). These
were not comparisons to your implementation.

>> (1) higher than necessary storage space requirement due to
>> storing the indexing data required for correlate the spends, and
> Hmm. No. Spends are simply scanned in the spend-tree (full tree, 
> prunable, fully 5.6gb), or caught by the spend-index (bit index, 
> non-prunable, fully 180mb). Neither impose significant storage 
> requirements.
>> 2) higher than necessary validation complexity and cost in terms
>> of computing the spent-ness (including spender height) of an
>> output.
>> With the exception of de-linking (not deleted) in the case of
>> reorgs, the entire store is append only, implemented in a small
>> set of memory mapped file
> I guess this is the key difference. As the spend-tree stores the
> spend information in a tree structure, no reorgs are required, and
> the resulting code is actually much less complex.

The references to "higher than necessary storage" and "higher than
necessary validation cost" are explicitly relative statements,
comparing earlier and later libbitcoin implementations.

It is not clear to me how you are relating both the storage cost
("Hmm. No. ... Neither impose significant storage requirements.") and
code complexity ("... resulting code is actually much less complex")
of your tx ordering software to my statements. Do you think I am wrong
and libbitcoin v3 is not actually more space and code efficient than
libbitcoin v2?

But given that you have thrown some numbers and ideas out in a request
for feedback, I'm happy to give you some based on several years of
experience working closely with these issues.

First, I remain confused on your comments pertaining to UTXO growth
and network protocol. I followed your conversation with Greg and it
remains unclear to me. From what I understand you have isolated order
(double spend) from script validation. I think we all understand that
script validation requires inputs and outputs while double spend
detection requires correlation of inputs. What I do not understand is
your choice of optimization axis.

Detection of double spend is not useful in isolation. One must also
validate scripts, which requires outputs. I can see that there is an
opportunity to reject blocks (within the same branch) faster by
validating for double spends before validating script. But unconfirmed
transactions do not exist in a branch, and are therefore not truly
conflicting, until they are mined. And even after they are mined
conflicting txs remain potentially valid in other branches. So
rejecting txs due to conflict comes down to a denial of service
policy, which ultimately must be based on fee increment (e.g. RBF).
But fees are based on the amount of the output value that remains
unspent in the transaction. So this in turn requires the retrieval of

And yet the remaining scenario of fast rejection of invalid blocks is
not a meaningful optimization. Optimizing for the case where a block
has valid and sufficient PoW and yet is invalid (for double spend) is
counterproductive. And even so, the txs within the invalid block may
be entirely valid independent of the block, so you are back to looking
up their outputs to obtain fees in the case of a double spend or to
validate script otherwise. In all cases you need to get the outputs.

> Bitcrust simply scans the tree. Although earlier designs used a 
> skip-list, it turns out that accompanied by a spent-index lagging a
> few blocks behind, raw scanning is faster then anything even though
> it needs to scan ~5 blocks times ~4000 inputs before reaching the
> first spent-index,  the actual scan is highly cache efficient and
> little more then a "REP SCASQ", reaching sub-microsecond per input
> on each core *including* the lookup in the spend index.

I realize that you see the implementation of the ordering validation
as interesting detail, but I find it hard to justify contemplating the
implementation in isolation from the output lookup requirement. And if
one must looking up both outputs and spends for each validation, it
makes more sense to co-locate that data.

Recovering in one step all data necessary to validate a tx has real
advantages over either interleaving queries and validation or
splitting input vs. output validation queries into two steps. It is a
significantly more test-friendly approach, has better performance
characteristics, and simplifies code. I cannot see any reason to
perform the data read for double spend validation in isolation of that
for script validation.

>> I don't follow this part, maybe you could clarify. A spends
>> index grows with the size of the spend set (forever) as it cannot
>> be pruned, which certainly exceeds the size of the UTXO set
>> (unless nothing is spent). The advantage is that you don't have
>> to keep rewriting the store when you use a spends set (because
>> the store can be append only).
> My point is, that the spend tree grows per *input* of a
> transaction instead of per *output* of a transaction, because this
> is what is scanned on order validation.

I think the conversation with Greg resolved my questions in this area.
What I find interesting is the reliance on Core's UTXO store to
implement script validation. This is not, "a storage engine without a
UTXO-index" as it has a dependency on Core's UTXO index.

On the other hand the initial libbitcoin implementation that I
described to you is *actually* a bitcoin store with no UTXO index. The
current implementation is as well, however it is implemented
differently and is much more efficient than the original. How it
compares to your design is not really the point and impossible to
measure until you have production code.

I can say however that your assumptions about the storage (and
performance) superiority of the design, or at least its
implementation, seem unfounded. If you are storing more index data
(5.6gb) than 32 bits per output, you are using more space than
production implementations. As for complexity, I don't think you'll
get any simpler than a loop to populate spend heights from a hash
table and a loop to test their integer values.

> The spend tree can be pruned because the spend index (~200mb)
> catches early spends.
> Disregarding the baseload script validation, the peak load order 
> validation of bitcrust is more negatively effected by a transaction
> with many inputs than by a transaction of many outputs.
> I encourage you to check out the results at https://bitcrust.org

If by results you are referring to performance numbers, it's very hard
to draw any conclusions without a full benchmark. It's great that if
you are able to boost Core, but from my perspective the numbers aren't
especially compelling.

As for some of the site's comments, these again cause me to question
the optimization choices:

"Blocks can be verified in parallel..."

Despite the site's explanation I cannot think of any reason to ever
validate two blocks at the same time. You would always prioritize the
block with the greatest PoW. Doing otherwise just slows down the net
validation in all but the pathological case where a miner has produced
an *invalid* block with *more* PoW than another valid block which
arrived at the node within the same second. Rejecting a *valid* block
with more PoW in favor of one with *less* "processing" is a hard fork,
so you probably wouldn't want to do that either. But with compact
block validation times approaching 25ms it's hard to justify stopping
a block validation for any reason.

That's not to say parallel block validation difficult to do. If you
can validate one block's full set of inputs in parallel (which is not
novel) doing the same with additional blocks has trivial additional

"The storage engine is optimized from ground up for
xthin/compact-block synchronization. This ensures that when the
majority of transactions are already synced, incoming blocks can be
verified at minimal resources using order-validation only."

There are two distinct considerations here. One is pre-validation of
txs and the other is compact announcements. Just to be clear, the
former does not require the latter. Libbitcoin for example fully
exploits the former, independent of compactness. With a low min fee
setting and a few peers it is typical for the node to have
pre-validated 100% of non-coinbase txs. Averages at 1 satoshi per byte
are about 99.9%, effectively amortizing all script validation cost. So
this optimization is neither novel nor limited to compactness (which
is about reducing latency).

I am also interested in your previous comments about soft forks. These
are material considerations that Greg touched on but it doesn't sound
like you fully appreciate just yet. When a tx is pre-validated the
rules applied must be the same rules as those of some future block.
Yet a tx can be included in more than one block (different branches).
Across branches and even in one branch, validation rules change, and
can change back. The changes are based on accumulated branch history.
Pre-validation can later become invalidated, and differently in
different branches. And maintaining proper context requires either
storing state that you are apparently not storing, or invalidating
optimizations. Based on your comments you do not seem to be accounting
for this in your storage assumptions or in your results. A recent post
by Greg highlights the complexity and consensus criticality of these

By "order-validation only" I believe you are referring to a
determination of whether the txs organized into a candidate block
double spend internal to the block or in the ancestry. Assuming that
one recovers outputs at the same time (and presumably from the same
location) as spender height (which is required both for validating
spends of a coinbase and for determination of whether the spend is
above the fork point), this determination is straightforward. One
simply loops over the spender records and invalidates a tx that has a
spender height not above the fork point (while also validating
coinbase maturity using the same height). A loop over the set of
in-memory spend heights of each output a tx is certainly fast enough
to not be worthy of any further optimization. And as previously
discussed, the population of the spender heights is not even a
material additional cost over obtaining the (necessary) output scripts.

The hash table store that I described can fully navigate the block
tree and transaction DAG, since the stored tx, parent and point hashes
are also natural keys and each link is navigable in constant time. It
is also lock-free, can concurrently write any number of blocks during
initial block download and supports read/write concurrency. It has
successfully indexed and stored the entire blockchain from the P2P
network in 16 minutes (locally). It also stores both confirmed and
unconfirmed transactions in the same store, so there is nothing to
write when a block is confirmed except for the block header/hashes and
updates to spender heights for any output spent by the new block's
txs. It is similarly capable of storage in the block table of weak
chain blocks...

But one thing it does *not* do is maintain spender and fork state for
multiple branches. In other words it is optimized for one long chain,
not multiple long branches. Your approach has a limited (in terms of
double spend identification) optimization for reorganization (i.e. a
change to the strong chain identity). However, applying that
optimization to the full store and supportive of soft forks, as
opposed to just input ordering, is a much larger task than it appears
you have attempted. I know, as I created a design for that approach
and after some time scrapped it. The cost of performing the
reorganization in the above store is low enough and very long reorgs
infrequent enough, for the optimization to be counterproductive. It's
elegant in theory, but in practice it increases storage requirements,
impacts general performance and significantly increases complexity.
Bitcoin's data model pushes one away from a tree design in that it is
always pruning the tree. Having the tree is necessary, but it's not
something to optimize for.


> Regards, Tomas
> On Fri, Apr 7, 2017, at 01:38, Eric Voskuil wrote: On 04/06/2017
> 03:12 PM, Tomas via bitcoin-dev wrote:
> Hi Tomas,
>>>> I have been working on a bitcoin implementation that uses a 
>>>> different approach to indexing for verifying the order of 
>>>> transactions. Instead of using an index of unspent outputs,
>>>> double spends are verified by using a spend-tree where spends
>>>> are scanned against spent outputs instead of unspent
>>>> outputs.
> This is the approach that genjix used in libbitcoin version2. With
> the exception of de-linking (not deleted) in the case of reorgs,
> the entire store is append only, implemented in a small set of
> memory mapped files. The downsides to the approach are:
> (1) higher than necessary storage space requirement due to storing
> the indexing data required for correlate the spends, and
> (2) higher than necessary validation complexity and cost in terms
> of computing the spent-ness (including spender height) of an
> output.
> His implementation used a hash table, so performance-wise it did
> quite well and would theoretically outperform a tree, O(1) vs.
> O(log2(N)).
>>>> This allows for much better concurrency, as not only blocks,
>>>> but also individual inputs can be verified fully in
>>>> parallel.
> I was successful in parallelizing input validation (across the
> inputs of an unconfirmed tx and across the set of all inputs in a
> block) using the v2 store. However, it is not the case that the
> spends approach is necessary for concurrency.
> To resolve the above two problems the version3 store does not use
> a spends table/index. Nor does it store any table of UTXOs. Yet 
> validation is highly parallelized. Instead of additional indexes
> it uses the tx hash table, augmented with 32 bits per output for
> spender height. So there is a O(1) cost of finding the tx and a
> O(N) cost of finding the spender height where N is the number of
> outputs in the tx. But because the number of outputs in a tx is
> bounded (by block size) this is constant time in the number of
> transactions.
> This works out much faster than the spends table, and without the 
> storage cost or complexity disadvantages. It also scales with 
> available hardware, as the memory mapped files become in-memory
> hash tables. For low memory machines we found it was important to
> implement an opaque UTXO cache to limit paging, but for higher end
> systems zero cache is optimal.
>>>> I am sharing this not only to ask for your feedback, but also
>>>> to call for a clear separation of protocol and
>>>> implementations: As this solution, reversing the costs of
>>>> outputs and inputs, seems to have excellent performance
>>>> characteristics (as shown in the test results), updates to
>>>> the protocol addressing the UTXO growth, might not be worth
>>>> considering *protocol improvements* and it might be best to
>>>> address these concerns as implementation details.
> I don't follow this part, maybe you could clarify. A spends index 
> grows with the size of the spend set (forever) as it cannot be
> pruned, which certainly exceeds the size of the UTXO set (unless
> nothing is spent). The advantage is that you don't have to keep
> rewriting the store when you use a spends set (because the store
> can be append only).
> Feel free to message me if you'd like to discuss in more detail, or
> to continue on the libbitcoin mailing list (copied).
> e
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